Managua, Nicaragua: General Info

Quick Facts and Figures

  • Population: 1.3 million

  • Natural Threats: more than 25 volcanoes surround Managua; active fault lines run dead through the middle of the city; prone to flooding and landslides

  • Number killed in 1972 earthquake: 6,000-10,000

  • Damage from ’72 earthquake: five square miles of the city center in complete ruins; light, water, sewerage, and communications were destroyed; medical capacity of the capital was eliminated; almost $1 billion in damages while 1971 GDP was only $800 million.

  • Number killed in Contra war: 5,000

  • Number of McDonald’s (an informal economic indicator): 3

  • Number of escalators: 6

  • Number of modern skyscrapers: 2 (a couple more are on the way)

  • Unemployment rate: more than 50 percent

  • Inflation in 1990: 36,000 percent

  • Price for a pound of rice in 1988 during the US embargo: $4

  • Number of houses believed to be siphoning electricity from power lines: 100,000

  • Number of people that find themselves homeless in the capital every year: 20,000


    The Hotel Morgut (222-3340) (funky name, huh?), one block north and one block west of the Intercontinental in Barrio Martha Quezada is not a bad deal. Large musky rooms are fairly clean with fans, private bath, and televisions. The staff is friendly, and although the official price may be around $35, I only paid $15 because no one else was there.

    In late 1999, the capital’s first Holiday Inn was being built. It should be open soon. The Hotel Intercontinental is the main joint in town for business travelers, media, diplomats, and whoever else has the cash. The lobby bar is the main drag in town for foreigners to come and ask each other “What the hell are you doing here?”

    Edible Grub

    The standard fare in Nicaragua is much like its neighbors – black beans, rice, and chicken. If you can live with that, you can almost eat for free in Nicaragua at the local markets and cafes. There are a fair amount of decent eateries in the Barrio Martha Quezada area. Locals will be sure to point out the city’s gastrointestinal pride – TGI Friday’s, a sure sign that they are slowly crawling into the 21st century.


    Riding Managua’s buses is not for amateurs! They even seem to make the rest of Central America’s buses like a walk in the park. They are so crowded that people do much more than sit on the roof. They actually hang on to the sides, some out of the windows. The good news is that it costs you just pennies to travel around, the bad news being that you are unlikely to emerge from the pile of sweaty bodies with your wallet. So notorious for pickpockets, it is almost a guarantee. I stick with the taxis, they are still cheap, for the most part honest, and you may even make a good friend or two.

    Getting There and Away

    Buses within Nicaragua are usually just as awful as Managua’s city buses. If you are traveling around the country with a group, you may consider pooling together to just get a taxi. The economy is in such shambles and locals so desperate for work that you can usually get someone to drive you just about anywhere for a reasonable price in much more comfort than the buses. The added advantage is that you won’t have to constantly worry about getting ripped off. (Riding the bus is a stressful experience!) Due to the lack of tourist infrastructure, there are no “first class” or premium buses as in neighboring countries.

    If you are traveling from other places in Central America, Tica Bus (222-3031 in Managua) in centrally located in the Barrio Martha Quezada and offers services between Guatemala City and Panama City, stopping in all the capitals along the way. Sirca Express (227-3833 in Managua) offers services to and from San Jose, Costa Rica as well as connections throughout Central America.

    The Augusto Sandindo International Airport has regular flights to and from Miami as well as the rest of Central America. With proper planning, you can almost always get a cheaper flight into Managua than San Jose.


    Nicaragua is one of those places that brings horror to everyone’s mind, but for the most part, its reputation is undeserved. There is some sporadic violence between rearming Contras (now called Recontras) and Sandinistas (now called Recompas), but the real war ended in 1990. Most of these incidents now occur in the Northwest parts of the country and are not directed at travelers. Managua can appear horrifying after dark, but random violence is not that common. More of a concern is sneak theft and pickpockets. I find that people are willing to talk about the war to those willing to listen, but be careful talking politics unless you really know your history! One article even debates that Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America while some residents in Grenada can’t even remember the last time someone was murdered.